This is the column about putting your old dog down. I wrote one like it in 2005 when we had to put Ritz to sleep. Now I owe it to Rudy to honor his life the same way.

Ritz lived to be almost 18 years old. Rudy only made it to 12. But they were both great old guys who enriched our lives and live on in our hearts and minds.

In 2007, daughter Nora found an ad on Craig’s List for dogs looking for homes and she decided her mother and I had been dogless long enough. The online ad directed me to Springvale and a young lady who volunteered with a group that takes dogs from kill shelters down south and transports them for adoption to New England. Everyone I know seems to have a dog from a southern kill shelter. What’s wrong with folks down there? Can’t they take care of their own pets?

In any event, Carolyn instructed me to get “a pretty dog.” Unsure what that meant I picked out a gangly black pup, part Lab and part Australian shepherd, I was told. Rudy did, in fact, grow into a very handsome fellow. People were always remarking on his good looks. Although I have never seen one in real life, he looked exactly like pictures of flat-coated retrievers.

Rudy was no retriever, however. Throw a ball for him and he’d look at you with a mixture of confusion and disdain. I always kind of respected him for that. Rudy didn’t chase balls. He was a herder. He ran circles around other dogs when he was young and couldn’t stand to have anyone lag behind.

Rudy was a gentle soul, a sweet-natured dog who loved kids, got along with everyone, and was very sociable with other dogs. He’d chase a cat, of course, but would never harm one. He did have a thing about German shepherds, however. He had been attacked by one, a retired police dog, and his hackles went up any time he saw one. I always kind of respected him for that, too.

Rudy was just an All-American mutt, but we could have purchased an AKC registered flat-coated retriever, which these days fetch $2,000 to $3,000, for what we spent on vet bills over the years. Other than a few hundred bucks to de-worm him when I first brought him home, his medical bills were nothing the first 10 years. Then he developed a liver disease, grew a fatty tumor the size of a football on his shoulder and gained 30 pounds on steroids. The vet gave him “a few weeks to a few months to live.” He lived another two years.

I grew up with dogs – tri-colored collies named Princess and Rip and beagley mutts named Sootie, Cokie and Heidi. But Rudy was a momma’s boy. He tolerated me as an equal, but he answered only to Momma.

I see now how Carolyn misses Rudy at the door when she comes home from work, how she misses their morning and evening walks, how it seems strange that no one barks when people come to the door, and how odd that there is no one under the table any more waiting for supper scraps. We will no doubt invite another dog into our lives, but not for at least a year or so. We owe Rudy that much.

Dogs, brief as their lives may be, teach us priceless lessons about love, loss and loyalty

Well done, my good and faithful friend. Well done, Rudy.

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